Corinne Diacre: Quietly achieving revolution in the Auvergne

4 Jan

In Clermont-Ferrand, capital of the mountainous Auvergne region of France, football has always been a poor second to Rugby. Whilst the towns rugby side boasts an illustrious history, more latterly becoming French Champions in 2010 and European Champions Cup (Formerly Heineken Cup) runners-up in 2013 and 2015, its football team, Clermont Foot, can only offer up a third-tier championship won in 2007 and which gave the club the membership of Ligue 2, French football’s second tier. It was therefore quite possibly the first time that football had upstaged rugby in the town when Clermont Foot appointed Helena Costa as first-team head-coach in May 2014, and in doing so grabbing the attention of the world’s media keen to hail a historic moment.

The appointment of Costa had indeed been ground-breaking; She became the first ever woman to be appointed as head-coach of a men’s team in the top two divisions of any professional European league. Instrumental in the move had been the agent Sonia Souid – also involved in the first ever remunerated transfer of a French Professional Woman’s player between two French clubs – who viewed the appointment as an opportunity to create real change in the world of football.

Although there were some who claimed that the appointment had been a publicity stunt on the part of the clubs president, Claude Michy – no stranger to such things – it was though clear that Costa boasted a not unimpressive set of coaching credentials. These included a masters degree in sports science and a UEFA coaching licence. Costa had also worked as a scout for Celtic and coached Benfica’s male youth teams as well as the women’s national teams of Qatar and Iran. Her CV also included a stint of work-experience under compatriot Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

To those hoping for change however, there came a major blow when Costa quit barely a month into the job claiming that she had been effectively sidelined, being, she said, little more than a “face” to attract publicity. Among Costa’s complaints were the arranging of pre-season friendlies and players being signed without her knowledge as well as a series of emails to the clubs technical director going unanswered. A press conference in the wake of the departure only added to the impression that Costa’s appointment had been a false dawn for gender equality when Michy made a number of unenlightened-sounding remarks: “She’s a woman,” he said. “They are capable of leading us to believe in certain things and then… She simply said, ‘I’m going.’

This though was not the end of the story. Michy wasted no time in appointing another woman as head-coach. This time it was Corinne Diacre, a 39 year-old former French International defender with 121 caps to her name. Captaining the side she had also had a period as the national teams assistant manager and had managed Soyaux, her old club, between 2007 and 2013. As with Costa Diacre’s appointment caught the attention of the world’s media with much of the coverage focusing on her gender. Not all of this was welcome and according to Michy some reporters were even asking questions such as at what time did she enter the dressing room.

For Diacre the continuing focus by elements of the press on her gender, rather than on her actions as a coach, has proved something of an irritant. Over a year into the job, she has though established a track record with which her work can be judged objectively. In her first season the club finished in 12th, an improvement of 2 places on the previous season, but so far her second season is proving to be something of a revelation. The approach of Christmas saw Clermont firmly in the race for promotion to French football’s top tier, Ligue 1, and at the time of writing the team sit in third place – no mean feat for a club which has such a small budget.

Diacre’s work received recognition in both an extended contract in September, committing her to the club until 2018 and at the end of the year being awarded the title of Ligue 2 manager of 2015 by the well-regarded weekly publication France Football. Diacre told the magazine that promotion would not just be a personal triumph, it would, she said be a just reward for club president, Michy, who she credits with taking a risk on her appointment and continuing to provide her with his backing.

It is though a small irony that much of the worldwide attention on Diacre and Clermont Foot has evaporated and once again, in the Auvergne, it is rugby which receives the higher profile. Diacre’s moment of triumph is therefore unlikely to be as widely reported as her appointment, but this is an achievement in itself as Diacre is unlikely to want any more than to be seen as just another coach of a football team.

Is the Premier League becoming more equal?

1 Jan

CV graph

Any conversation about the Premier League this season will invariably include an observation that it is ‘a strange season’ as the established order we have all grown used to has shown signs of a shift. Leicester at the top of the league table instead of battling for relegation, Manchester United trailing Crystal Palace, last seasons champions Chelsea going from bad to worse? Has the world been turned upside down?

For some this seasons results are due to a structural shift towards greater equality. In The Telegraph Paul Hayward writes in an article titled The Premier League has become the new NFL – volatile, rich and thoroughly equal “Once an immutable parade of four or five global corporations, with occasional interventions by Everton or Spurs, the Premier League has emerged from the latest deluge of television money more competitive, unpredictable, meritocratic, intriguing and fun.” There is even talk, such as on the blog Just Football, of a new middle-class of clubs, of which Leicester are said to be a member.

An article in The Economist, Why The English Premier League Has Been Turned Upside Down however, suggests that rather than any long-term structural change what we’re seeing is more likely the result of rapid innovations in tactics and the result of, in Chelsea’s case, a lack of summer transfer activity combined with fatigue impacting on the form of key players.

So what is the long-term picture? A while back, in an attempt to come up with a measure of competitiveness which allowed me to compare different leagues, I calculated the coefficient of variation of league wins. This is calculated by working out the average number of league wins, along with the standard deviation (SD), a measure of spread. The SD is then divided by the average to produce a percentage. A high percentage means that the number of league wins is more spread out, and therefore the league can be said to be more unequal whilst a low number shows that, the number of wins recorded by each club over a season is closer to the average, and therefore the league is more evenly balanced.

While there is a degree of fluctuation going all the way back to the 1983/84 season we can see the long-term trend over this period has been for the coefficient to increase, suggesting that inequality has been rising, notably so in the Premier League era; In 1983/84, for instance, the coefficient was 27.1, whilst it peaked in 07/08 at 46.8. The league, much like society, seemed to have become infused with a greater inequality between those at the top and the rest.

The past few seasons however, have seen something of a slight fall in the inequality. In 12/13 the coefficient was 46.8, 44.6 in 13/14 and 40.2 in 14/15. For the current season, up until the end of 2015 the figure stands at a slightly higher 41.8. So the league taken as a whole this season is not any more competitive than last season. But despite this  apparently downwards trend it is hard to really tell whether this is a long-term change, or just short-term fluctuation, so we can’t rule out either the Hayward hypothesis, or the Economist alternative – or at least not yet.

Interestingly making a comparison with the other major European leagues  shows that currently the Premier League is more evenly balanced than the rest. To a greater, or lesser extent almost all of the big leagues have seen a rise in inequality in recent years and at the end point of 2015 it is in fact the Bundesliga which is the most uneven with a coefficient of 49.1. The figure for Ligue 1 is also interesting as whilst at 46.7  it doesn’t stand out in the group, but between 2004-05 and 2012-13 its highest coefficient had been 38.4, and for most of the time it had been around the mid-thirties. This change is unsurprising though as what had been an open league has become increasingly dominated by one club, Paris St. Germain, who last season won the treble of league, cup and league cup.

European league coefficients (2015/16  season up to 31st Dec 2015)

Bundesliga 49.1

Ligue 1 46.7

La Liga 47.5

Serie A 43.5

English top division coefficients (15/16 up to 31st Dec 2015)

83 84 27.1
84 85 31.8
85 86 39.2
86 87 30.5
87 88 39.7
88 89 31.0
89 90 30.6
90 91 34.8
91 92 25.9
92 93 23.9
93 94 38.1
94 95 37.8
95 96 36.7
96 97 32.3
97 98 31.7
98 99 33.7
99 00 38.0
00 01 35.8
01 02 42.2
02 03 35.6
03 04 39.4
04 05 46.2
05 06 42.2
06 07 39.7
07 08 46.8
08 09 44.0
09 10 45.3
10 11 33.7
11 12 43.8
12 13 46.8
13 14 44.6
14 15 40.2
15/16 41.8

 

 

 

 

Counting the cost of Football

9 Dec

How hard is it to establish the cost of supporting a football team? Well, it seems that it is more difficult than first appears. Just take the BBC price of football survey which has recently come in for some criticism from The Ball is Round blog.

To recap the price of football survey has been running for a few years. Clubs are contacted and asked to provide pricing information about some of their tickets – most notably the most expensive and cheapest match day tickets and season tickets they have on offer.

This focus on just the ends of the pricing spectrum can though be problematic according the critique offered by The Ball is Round who demonstrates, with the example of West Ham, that ticket pricing is rather more complex:

At West Ham United for instance, the cheapest ticket is apparently £25, which it is for the pre-Christmas game versus Stoke City. The game before, versus West Bromwich Albion the same seat would cost you £45 (for a ‘Category A’ game this would rise to £70). To therefore report the cheapest ticket is so low is simply misleading.

This is a valid point. Whilst the figures for the cheapest and most expensive tickets illustrate the maximum and minimum points of a clubs price range they are rather less revealing about the amount that most fans can actually be expected to part with to see their team.

This is perhaps a point the makers of the survey are acutely aware of as unlike the 2014 iteration in the 2015 survey the larger 13 page report available on the BBC website does actually provide a figure for the ‘most popular matchday ticket tier’ which at West Ham is £51-£60. Better, for sure, but still this is somewhat vague: What does ‘most popular mean’ and just how many tickets are priced outside this bracket?

From a methodological perspective one solution to the question: what do most fans pay to watch a team would be to calculate an average ticket price, but far from being easy this is actually a task of huge complexity. The reason for this is that ticket pricing has become hugely complex. Returning to West Ham there are three categories of matches and six pricing bands for each: Bands 1-4, Restricted View and Accessibility. Added to this there are also different prices for members for category A matches.

Calculating the average price of a West Ham ticket would involve using all this information. We would, for instance, need to know how many tickets were available at each price, for each match throughout the season. This would then give us an average ticket price, but just to add an extra layer of complexity this figure would not be the actual average paid in reality by fans. To calculate this we would need to take into account the number of seats which were sold at a discounted price to members, or other concessions (for simplicity the BBC survey focuses only on the price of an adult ticket available on the day of a match – in many cases there will be no available tickets). This information would not be available until after a season has finished. In many cases too this information may not be publically available, or clubs may not wish to disclose it.

Which moves us onto the other criticism levelled at the survey by The Ball is Round, notably that it is clubs themselves providing the information. This can in some cases bring in questions of how reliable the information is, but in their description of the methodology the BBC reveal that though the clubs were asked to provide the information this was then verified by journalists at the BBC. Once again to look at West Ham’s figures the information supplied tallies with what is available on their website. It also seems unlikely that clubs would set their ticket prices in an attempt to deliberately ‘game’ the survey as there is as of yet not a great deal of importance placed on the results. On the whole it appears too that clubs have been quite happy to cooperate, with only Swansea city declining to take part.

To be sure critiques like those offered by The Ball is Round are on to something. The BBC price of survey football survey does leave many unanswered questions – my own observation would be that it ignores concessionary prices for groups such as the U18s, over 65’s and people with a disability, something which is crucial when looking at clubs reaching out to the next generation and more disadvantaged groups. But before being too tough on the BBC survey what needs to be considered are the questions of resources, complexity and proportionality. Ticket pricing is a complex issue. To me this is a sign that – rightly or wrongly – clubs have a far more nuanced view of their target market and how to maximise this revenue stream.

This complexity, as we have seen, makes any attempt to compare a large number of clubs in a consistent manner difficult. Even something as simple as the price of a pie can be nuanced as the pies will vary in both size and quality, whilst the price of pies tell you nothing about the cost of sausage rolls, or other hot snacks. You do though have to start somewhere and in this endeavour the BBC survey, for my part, gets things broadly right by providing solid points of comparison and producing information which can be (unlike many matchday pies) easily digested.

Sholing v AFC Totton: Russell Cotes Cup 1st Round

30 Oct

Sholing Totton

Although I’d put it in my diary and cleared it in advance with the other half an hour to go until kick-off I was trying to come up with excuses not to go; I felt a spot of rain, it’ll be too cold, it’ll be two reserve teams playing in a competition no one wants to win anyway…..

Paradoxically this last excuse is the reason why I decided to go in the first place. Not to see a reserve team, but to get up close to one of Hampshire football’s most unfancied cup tournaments, the Russell Cotes Cup. I’ve developed something of a fascination with the kind of tournaments no one loves; To me they’re a little like derelict, or semi-derelict buildings which hide often long and rich histories, yielding up stories to those curious enough to poke around.

The history of the Russell Cotes has become more obscured than most. Whilst the Hampshire Senior Cup has a Wikipedia page featuring a list of winners stretching back to the first final – won by Woolston Works in 1888 – there is no such page for the Russell Cotes. Both Google and the website of the Hampshire Football Association fails to yield any further clues so it is pure speculation on my part that the cup has some kind of connection to the one-time prominent Bournemouth resident Merton Russell-Cotes. In its time it was also piece of silverware which had some status and in 1983 formed the final piece of the glorious trinity for a Sholing based team of the past, Sholing Sports, when they defeated Waterlooville in the final, having already won the Hampshire League and Senior Cup.

These days the contest carries rather less prestige. In 2014 cup-holders Gosport Borough withdrew at the quarter-final stage after being told they could not use on-loan players whilst that same year finalists Farnborough were removed from the competition for fielding players who did not have a senior team registration, leading to the re-instatement of the team they defeated in the semi-final, AFC Portchester, who promptly went on to win the cup.

Ahead of this evenings game Sholing manager Dave Diaper had telephoned his opposite number to tell him he would be fielding a team of youngsters with a smattering of fringe players and first-teamers – In fact no fewer than five Sholing players would be making their first-team debuts.

The call which Diaper said he had made out of courtesy appeared not to have influenced Steve Hollick’s selection as Southern league Totton arrived with a strong side. It was little surprise then that Totton took the game to their hosts sustaining the pressure throughout the first half hour. The Sholing kids defended valiantly, but the Stags eventually got their reward on 31 minutes when a Sholing defender appeared to be suckered into making a foul in a dangerous position and the subsequent free-kick was duly headed in.

It was a surprise though that come half time that Sholing were 2-1 up with two goals against the run of play; first a cross-cum-shot which eluded the Totton ‘keeper and the second the result of a piece of penalty area slapstick from the Totton goalkeeper and one of his defenders with Sholing’s Lukas Sabo being the grateful recipient.

In the second half things were a little different and Sholing, who had lacked fluidity going forward in the first half, looked a much more dangerous proposition as they looked to put the increasingly ragged visitors to the sword. Sholing’s third came soon after the re-start when a slick through ball left James Davis one-on-one with the Totton ‘keeper. With the goal sparking a civil war among the Totton back line, it was clear from this point there would be no way back.

By the time substitute Jamie Bulpitt slammed in a 30-yard volley on the 60 minute mark Totton, currently fourth-to-bottom in the Southern League South and West, looked as if they would be grateful for the chance to concentrate on the league. The did manage a late rally with a goal on 86 minutes and a shot which left the crossbar rattling that had it gone in may have set up a tense finale to what had been an already entertaining game… and who knows Sholing may go all the way.

Sholings match report can be found here

Sholing Sports: A history

25 Sep

For the past year, or so I’ve been putting together a history of Sholing Sports Football Club. This project stemmed mainly from my curiosity about the side who in their time were one of Hampshire’s top amateur sides with several Hampshire Senior Cup titles and Russell Cotes Cup titles to their name as well as a number of Hampshire League championships. I’ve put this all together into a book which is available on Amazon for £2.75. The following is a brief extract about the club in the early1920s when it was known as Sholing Athletic and reveals a fascinating link between Sholing and Herbert Chapman’s famous Arsenal side.

ss1970s

In his revealing history of football in the area Bitterne Football A Glimpse at the Past  Ken Prior mentions that Athletic had a reputation as being a ‘nursery’ club with a number of players going on to better things. One Athletic player he mentions, Callaghan, went on to play for Merthyr Town, then in the football league, in the 1920s. Another, Sam Meston, joined Southampton from Athletic in 1922, before going on to play for Gillingham and Everton. One particular Athletic player though stands out head-and-shoulders among the Sholing alumni; Described in Chalk & Holley’s Alphabet of the Saints as “Without doubt one of the best full-backs to ever grace the Dell” Peartree-born Tom Parker joined Southampton in 1918 and distinguishing himself at the Saints subsequently joined Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. Parker went on to captain the Arsenal side in their FA Cup final win of 1930 in addition to the League championship in 1931. Parker also holds the record for most consecutive appearances for Arsenal, playing an uninterrupted 172 games from April 1926 until December 1929.

The period following the first-world-war was a successful one for Athletic who in 1920 claimed the double of the Southampton Senior League title and the Southampton Senior Cup – the first of three consecutive victories in the latter tournament. Simultaneously the reserves weighed in by claiming the Junior Division ‘B’ championship. This success in the Southampton League led to a bigger stage and in 1920-21 the club entered, for the first time in their history, the Hampshire League. In their first season Athletic finished first place in the nine-team East Division – a division populated largely by reserve sides including the reserve sides of Salisbury City, Thornycrofts (Woolston), Andover, Winchester City and Basingstoke. This secured Athletic promotion to the county top flight and in their first season, 1921-22 Athletic acquitted themselves well finishing a respectable 6th out of 15.

The 1922-23 season saw Athletic go one better to finish 5th out of 17 in the league, but it was most memorable for the sides run in the Hampshire Senior Cup……

When did goalkeepers jerseys get so boring?

30 Aug

In the now annual summer ritual of new kit releases it is not unusual to see a full range of emotions on display; from eager expectation to full-blown anxiety. Fans queuing outside the club shop on the appointed release day may do so with a sense of Christmas-morning excitement, or with a sense of resignation that, like a bad haircut, it will only be a short time until it’s time for a new one. Any failure to respect established club traditions is also likely to result in much controversy – Southampton fans are still recovering from the trauma imposed by the brief hiatus of the clubs red and white stripes.

By contrast, even in an atmosphere as highly charged as this, the unveiling of the design for the goalkeeper’s kit is highly unlikely to stir anything more than fleeting interest. Perhaps this is because few fans will ever purchase one – aside from the sort of aspiring goalkeeper types usually seen milling around local 5-a-side centres – but perhaps this is because goalkeepers kits these days, have become so bland, so boring even, as to be virtually unnoticeable.

Today’s range of conservative keepers kits are a far cry from the flamboyant jerseys which predominated in the 1990s. This was the time when new printing technologies provided designers with greater possibilities and although there was an existing traditional grammar for goalkeepers kit – mainly of muted greens, blacks, greys and the occasional yellow – few clubs or fans, had any real preference, or investment in one colour combination, or pattern over another. With looser rules there was therefore greater freedom to innovate. Along with third kits, which also provided designers with a blank-slate unimpinged by a need to heed tradition, goalkeeper’s jerseys were in the vanguard of a headlong rush towards garishness.

The most famous exponent of this movement was Jorge Campos, the Mexican international goalkeeper who reputedly designed his own kits and whose acid-trip fluorescent jersey and shorts combo, were a highlight of World Cup USA ’94, and which make him a cult figure to this day. Such luridness had though been the norm and was embraced around the globe; from the highly popular explosion-in-a-paint factory look, as seen on Huddersfield Towns 93-94 ‘keepers shirt, which manages to combine pink, yellow, green, red and blue among other shades, to the Estonian national team’s 1996 design whose Aztec-like patterns were positively headache inducing. Special mention also deserves to go to Sunderland’s 1994-96 goalkeepers shirt which featured the outline of a pair of hands and which was, being charitable, the best thing that could be said about the kit.

Indeed many of the goalkeeper’s kits of the era were hideous monstrosities, therefore the eventual counter-reformation which saw a return to a more traditional plainness should surely be seen as a welcome development. But with even Jorge Campos’s successors in the Mexico goal now reverting to a more muted colour palate the passing of the era of garishness should instead be mourned.

Project Future Football: August Update

6 Aug

Once again, a big thank you to those of you who have already written an article for Project Future Football. For those of you who haven’t seen my earlier posts Project Future Football was an idea I had for bloggers and football fans to come together in collaborating in the creation of an anthology of writing. The topic of this anthology is football in the future.

This anthology will then be self-published made available on Amazon later this year. Any profits from this will be donated to the charity Street League.

My big worry was that there would not be enough articles, but so far there have been some great articles on the future of tickets, grass roots football and politics as well as holographic footballers and cyborg referees.

I am though looking for just a few more. You can write about any topic of your choice, just as long as it’s about football in the future. As a guide to length anything from 500 – 1500 words, along with a small bio about you and, if applicable, your blog.

I’d particularly welcome articles on women’s football, kit design and tactics.

As another way to get involved you can Tweet your prediction for football in the future using the hashtag #futurefootball. The best will make it into the anthology.

My email is row.z.football@gmail.com

If you’d like to know more about Project Future Football, or Street league see here.

Neil

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